Friday, July 26, 2013

When Foster Care is Good

Being a foster parent is hard, and it's easy to complain about it 24/7 on a loop. Many foster parents and foster bloggers do this- myself included- and it's not just because we're self absorbed brats. We really want to educate and prepare others who are about the embark on this journey. It's also an act of solidarity to speak out against "the man". We want to let the others know they are not alone in dark places.

Clearly, though, there are bright spots. Moments of purity and hope that keep us coming back for more. I've had a lot of those recently.

Moving from 2 kids to 3 was an adjustment for me. Baby Girl was sick during the past month, but even on a good day she needs a lot of medical attention. Baby 4 had all of his end of the school year field trips and family days before being home for summer break. Baby 9 is, well, a newborn, and as such needs me all the time. I've been urging my husband to go back to school for 10 years, and doesn't this punk decide to start listening to me now? So our schedule has been jam packed, but in a really good way.

Baby 9 is a delight. She sleeps and eats like a champ. She smiles in her sleep and sticks her tongue out proudly when you talk to her. I dress her up like my own real life doll and parade her around in different headbands and hair bows everyday. Her case was dead for the first 2 months, but now we are going to court pretty regularly and having a lot of visits.

I feel like I'm doing her case right. I'm completely attached to her- committed for life, yet I fully expect her to reunify with her Mom. I have not freaked out once yet over her case, even though some craziness has occurred (like the caseworker holding a service plan review without telling me). I have a prior connection to Mom that has given me some perspective. We had mutual friends in high school and spent prom together. It makes it easier to root for her. It makes it easier to understand her and appreciate how much she loves 9. I'm not as scared as I have been in past cases. Not because this case is less scary, but because I'm not trying to fix anything. I'm trusting the process. Oh, the plan is for baby to live in a halfway house? Sounds good. What? That plan fell through? Perfect. Overnight visits already? Sure! Judge said no? Works for me.

We'll see how long I can keep this going. I feel like giving this "good foster mom" attitude a solid try before going back to the Mama Bear mode where I'm most comfortable albeit more stressed.

When I think back on the good times in foster care, all our Hallelujah calls come to mind first. The rush of the moment you know your life has changed forever. Most people only get a handful of those moments: graduations, weddings, births, big moves, new jobs. I've gotten all the normal moments AND 7 calls that my family will never look the same after I hang up the phone. Those calls are addicting.

I also think about the normal family moments that we get in between caseworkers and court dates. I don't get around to blogging those much because I'm busy experiencing them. Going to the splash park on sweaty summer days and watching my son climb and splash with other kids, catching my baby's first steps on video, and making crazy faces with my kids and giggling until our stomachs hurt. The hugs and kisses and bedtime songs. Foster Care is a big force in our world, but sometimes we forget it's there for an hour or maybe even a day. Those times are good.

Foster Care is good when I'm surrounded by other people on this road. I have great friends and family. I've been blessed. But I feel most comfortable and accepted when I'm with foster parents. We all earned our stripes, and even when our ideology differs, we belong in the club. I really love other foster parents.

The good part of foster care is not what I expected. I went into this thinking adoption would be the silver lining. Foster Care was a means to an end for us. Now that we are getting closer to Baby 4's possible adoption, I'm realizing it's less of a "win" than I thought. I'm so honored to be his Mom and making it legal is awesome, but the getting here was good. Watching and facilitating the healing that brought us to the point where we even want to be a family- that was the good part.

What sticks out to me most when I hear or participate in foster care horror story exchange is that we all would do it again. I have never heard a foster parent say, "I wish I had never taken that kid" or "If I knew then what I know now, I'd never have gotten certified". A life with no regrets? That's when foster care is good.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Baby 1

All during MAPP training, we were asked several times what the child we were hoping to have placed with us would look like. I am a people pleaser by nature, so I would have it no other way than to answer. "A child under 5 yrs old who needs a place to stay safe". Vague, PC, dripping with the "please certify us" desperation that controlled our lives. But really, the child that we wanted placed with us was a black newborn boy. I don't have any good reason for that- he's just who I wanted. He's who I pictured parenting for my whole adult life. Brandon and I spoke about it late at night when no one would ever hear because it's just not nice to try and special order a baby to your preferences. We never even whispered our hope to anyone at the county, and we would have honestly said yes to just about any child when we got our first Hallelujah.

It was a Wednesday when I got the call. The family I nannied for at the time was on vacation, so I was out with my Mom doing some thrift store perusing. We had just pulled into my driveway when I got the call. I told my Mom to run inside and get Brandon while I dug a receipt and a pen out of my purse to write down what the Matcher was telling me. When they got back to me, I had written: "Newborn Boy. AA, COMING TODAY!!". That was followed by a flurry of cleaning, shopping, packing the diaper bag, and installing the carseat. 6 hours later I sat on the couch holding my dream in my hands.

I've never fallen in love so fast, and I don't think I ever will again. Baby 1 healed a lot of hurt that I had been carrying in an empty womb. I believe I owe that baby my life. I am no longer who I was that morning at the thrift store. I am a better person because of Baby 1. Even 4 years later I would rush to lay my life down for him.

He was with us for 8 months before being reunified with his Father. One of the most important things Baby 1 taught me was how to grieve. I've been very sheltered and protected in my life. I never knew how to lose everything in one sweep and still keep going. I know how to do that now- because of Baby 1. Losing him was like drowning in scalding hot water.

It was about 4 months after I said goodbye, when I got slapped in the face by foster care. 

I was at court for Babies 2&3, so my phone was on silent. When I got out of court, I had 3 messages from the matcher: Baby 1 was coming back into care. Could they bring him to us? Since they couldn't get me on my cell, they had tried my house and gotten my Mom- who was there watching the boys. She told them where I was and that she knew for a fact that we would definitely take him back. She had already started making up his room again. I couldn't breathe: so disappointed, so elated, so worried, so hopeful. Then I got another call from the matcher. The CPS investigator had gone to the daycare and determined the baby was not in imminent danger, and would not be coming into care.

Devastation. Just when I had started to heal, they pour salt in the wound. I had to stop driving because I was hysterical. I pulled into a Wendy's parking lot and sobbed for 20 minutes. Not only was he taken from us once, and dangled in front of us to just be taken again, but I knew what the CPS report was about and it sounded like he wasn't in a great situation.

Still, I healed. I've had to say goodbye six more times since then. Every time it's just as hard, but I get better at it.

It was about 4 years after I said goodbye, when I got slapped in the face by foster care. Version 2.0

This Wednesday at noon, I was at the pharmacy picking up meds for my Mom who was recovering from cancer surgery on my couch when I got a call from the matcher: Baby 1 was coming back into care. Could they bring him to us? I bought every kind of fun kid thing in that pharmacy: candy, crackers, juice, toy airplanes. Brandon went right from work to Target to get a cozy blanket and a pillow pet for him, as well and pullups since we don't know if he's potty trained. I flew around the house: making up the same room he was in when he was just days old, and prepping Baby 4 for a new roommate who would now take up the bottom bunk. I got a call from the worker at 3:30 saying the investigator was going out to tell Dad about the placement, and the baby should be brought to my house after that. So we waited... and waited... until Thursday when the worker called me back to tell me they found a relative resource, and the baby would not be coming into care.

Devastation. Just when I thought the hurt was over, and my wounds had healed, they sliced open my scars while I laid there impotently. My whole body aches for him. It's a physical pain just as much as an emotional one.

Still, I'll heal. And the next time that Hallelujah rings, I'll stand proudly with my cheek to that phone, knowing the slap could come. Because that boy never stops teaching me. This time the lesson was from afar, but it was loud and clear:

A Mother never really loses her babies; even if they are where she can't reach. I'm here for him in the only way I can be. I'm waiting at rock bottom with a pillow pet to break his fall should he ever need me.